13 December 2017

Where’s the world’s smallest capital city?

If you are searching for a Christmas quiz question then let us oblige. ‘Where’s the world’s smallest capital city?’ The answer = Tórshavn, capital of the Faroe Islands.

There are 18 of them altogether – sitting about 200miles North West of the Shetlands between Norway and Iceland – beautiful, rugged and, as you might expect open to the Atlantic weather, wild. When we arrived at the end of November to host the third in our series of Nordic Cultural Tourism conversations, the winter’s snow had just started to fall.

Small and remote they may be, but the Faroes are not insular, balancing an international outlook with its status as the cradle of the Nordics. Its parliament sits on the site of one of the oldest parliaments in the world, where old Norse Vikings travelled to a rocky promontory for their annual assembly or Thing. Today the Faroes still act as the host and guardian of Nordic region culture at the beautiful Nordic House and the now Michelin-starred restaurant KOKS, was and remains, the very forefront of the Nordic food revolution.

Faroese culture is rich in itself – traditional and contemporary. Literature, art, circle dancing and music, often taking place in people’s homes or out in the landscape. Knitwear from designers Gudrun and Gudrun is highly prized. Made famous by the Nordic-noir The Killing, the designers now write personal letters to online customers explaining that their handmade jumpers may take some months to arrive, with stories about the knitters and the sheep. No-one cancels their order.

The Faroes Islands determination to stand firm has included playing Google at its own game with the ingenious Sheep View and Faroe Islands Translates. As a result of this and other initiatives, tourism is on the rise and the 50,000 Faroese inhabitants are boosted each year by 110,000 tourists – although most, disembarking from cruise ships, only stop for 2-3 hours.

Tourism looks set to become a significant new industry but the Faroe Islands want to get it right – finely balancing the twin needs of product development and marketing to make sure that they attract the right visitors for the experiences they can and could deliver, and at a managed pace.

Investment in cultural activity will be key to achieving that. In our joint culture-tourism conversation we found no lack of cultural talent, ideas or ambition, but a clear call for support to underpin the creative ecology and build its capacity so that artists, promoters, film-makers can work alongside tourism growth and not be overtaken by it.

The visit to Tórshavn was one of a series of cultural tourism think-tanks that have been conducting in the Nordic region with Ingi Thor of Nordic Intercultural Events and funded by North Atlantic Tourism Association. We also went to Iceland, and earlier in the year, Denmark.

Image: Nordic House

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